Cahokia High junior track standout Ja’Mari Ward, who helped the Comanches to their fifth straight state track and field championship earlier this month, has been named Illinois Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the second year in a row by Gatorade and USA Today High School Sports.
Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year award to be announced later this month, Ward joins an elite alumni association of state award-winners in 12 sports, including Ryan Hall (1999-01, Big Bear HS, Calif.), Meb Keflezighi (1993-94, San Diego HS, Calif.), Derek Jeter (1991-92, Kalamazoo HS, Mich.), Candace Parker (2001-02, Naperville Central), Mark Sanchez (2004-05, Mission Viejo HS, Calif.) and Lolo Jones (1997-98, Roosevelt HS, Iowa).
Ward, a 6-foot, 150-pound junior, won two individual events and contributed to two state-record relay clockings at the Class 2A state meet this spring, leading the Comanches to the state championship.
The state’s returning Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year, Ward broke the state record in the long jump with a leap of 25 feet, 1/4 inch and won the triple jump with a mark of 50-6. He anchored the 400-meter relay quartet to a victory in 41.12 and ran the second leg on the 800 relay, which won in 1:25.83.
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Ward’s season-best triple jump of 51-11 ranked as the nation’s No. 1 performance among prep competitors in 2015 at the time of his selection, while his top long jump of 25-6 1/2 ranked No. 2.
Ward has maintained a 3.67 GPA in the classroom. He has served as an elementary school tutor and has volunteered locally on behalf of the Special Olympics as well as community clean-up initiatives.
“Ja’Mari is the type of kid who doesn’t like to lose,” Cahokia head coach Leroy Millsap said. “He’s very motivated and I think he’s going to break the high school world record in the long jump. The key is that he has to be healthy to do it.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.
The selection process is administered by the Gatorade high school sports leadership team in partnership with USA Today High School Sports, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.